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The Triple Team: Jazz force bad looks inside, make poor decisions throughout in loss to Timberwolves

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) is defended by Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie (20) as the Utah Jazz host the Minnesota Timberwolves in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020.

Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 116-111 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. High pressure befuddles lackadaisical Jazz

The Minnesota Timberwolves read the scouting report.

They knew the Jazz had set a franchise record for 3-point attempts in their first regular season game, and knew that it had been a hallmark of their preseason performances and an emphasis in training camp. So what do you do to defend a team that takes a majority of their shots from three? Try to take away the three.

The Wolves absolutely did that on Saturday night with intense high ball pressure that made it difficult for the Jazz to do the things they wanted. The results: ugly turnovers, long possessions, and generally an offensive slog that ended up costing the Jazz a game they should have won.

“It turns into very fundamental things when the team is being that aggressive on the ball,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “And we just have to be tough for both mentally and physically in those situations to execute.”

They weren’t. Take a look at this turnover from Joe Ingles.

I mean, talk about a brain fart. I get what Ingles and Mitchell want Gobert to do, but that soft bounce pass is getting picked off by any set of athletes in the world. Curlers could have picked up those two points going the other way.

Most of the time, it wasn’t that bad; the Jazz’s turnovers were actually forced. But when the Wolves took away the Jazz’s first option, they seemed at a loss as far as what to do next. Not every team was going to play defense as poorly as Portland or as lazily as the Jazz’s preseason opponents, and they seemed unready to counter.

“It’s about being able to initiate possessions with force to alleviate some of that ball pressure, and then you have to make quick decisions,” Snyder said. “When the ball stops, it just allows them to get into you even more.”

The Timberwolves were pesky, and the early-season Jazz weren’t expecting pesky.

2. Driving more effectively?

When the perimeter pressure forced the Jazz to venture inside, ther really struggled: they made only 54% (19-35) of their shots at the rim, and 30% (6-20) of their shots 4-14 feet away. But that makes sense — they faced a lot of traffic inside, and resorted to taking a lot of tough shots that you’d hope were out of the repertoire altogether.

Bogdanovic’s forays to the rim were probably the worst example of this. When he dribbled towards the basket, it was like he was contractually obligated to throw the ball up to the rim, despite defensive pressure. Here, he rejects the screen, drives left, and the defender is really attached the whole time. Karl-Anthony Towns easily comes over and blocks it.

Look, scoring in the NBA just takes more craft than this. Bogdanovic isn’t fast or vertically athletic, so his drives will need to be crafty — incorporating some of the sudden stops of Doncic, the foul-drawing wizardry of Harden. This is too basic.

But Donovan Mitchell is fast and vertically athletic, and he was throwing up some coal at the rim too. This is a terrible shot — no balance, far from the rim, falling away, one handed, it just has very very little chance of falling.

Any team is going to struggle when their two 20-point scorers shoot 9-39 from the floor. Certainly, both Mitchell and Bogdanovic missed shots they usually make. But they also just made their lives extremely tough by driving into traffic without much of a plan, and that inefficiency really cost Utah.

This one is a bit of a non-sequitur, but Gobert started the game with two vicious dunks, then took this shot:

Rudy, this will never, ever be in your bag. Want to know how I know? Because it is in nobody’s bag. If literally anyone in the NBA took this shot, I would be disappointed with their shot selection. It is an elbow floater; you don’t even get the possibility of the shot hitting the backboard and rolling in. It is a terrible shot for everyone.

Winning teams take good shots. Losing teams take shots like the ones you see above.

3. Don’t force being a hero

After a really tough first half, the Jazz found themselves down 15. Surely, there must have been a hard conversation at the halftime interval, right? It wasn’t where the Jazz expected to be.

Minnesota got the ball first, and this is the play that followed.

Mitchell is down low in a defensive stance, doing a good job on Malik Beasley. Beasley swings it to Russell, but Mitchell wildly overcorrects to double Russell. The result? An easy pass back to Beasley and a wide-open path to the rim for Mitchell’s man.

I understand: Mitchell wanted to make a play. But by trying to be the hero, he left his man open for the easy drive.

Now, maybe you can say Gobert should have been more aggressive at defending the paint? But he was guarding Towns, and had three fouls — a late rotation would have meant his fourth, so I understand his reluctance.

So naturally, Gobert decided to try to be the hero on the very next play, on offense. He faced KAT up, and the Minnesota man drew a very easy fourth foul that you could see coming from a mile away.

Let me wrap it up this way: the Jazz won’t be a good team if their best players try to be heroes all the time.

The Jazz can’t survive Mitchell’s unwise forays in the paint or doubles on the ball. They can’t survive Gobert’s offensive goofiness. They can’t survive slow, selfish Bogdanovic drives. If the Jazz are going to be a competitive force, they’ll have to rely on one another to a greater degree than they did Wednesday.

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